Good News of Great Joy?
We all experience a wide range of emotions at Christmastime. We often think about Christmas as being a time of great joy, and it is a time of great joy. But Christmas is also a time that magnifies the pain of the human heart.
My daughter, once wrote a note to parents with children in the neonatal intensive care unit:
“The holidays do bring great happiness—family celebrating what we’ve been given and giving to others, imagining how the world ought to be, and the meaningful pause for faith traditions. But the same season highlights the profound loss in these areas as well—loved ones we’ve lost, family relationships that are severed or strained, financial stress, and the stories we still hear on the news regardless of the time of the year.
It is a sign of health as a human being—not madness or being a “Scrooge”—to be able to acknowledge and sit with contradictory emotions. We can embrace both hope and loss as part of the experience of the holidays. Be kind to yourself by expecting to feel a wide variety of emotions and not judging your own ambivalence.”
There’s this emotional turmoil that’s going on for many of us. Some people are struggling to find a sense of purpose, or identity, or meaning. Some have a marriage that is teetering on the brink, and some have just gone through a divorce. Some people have a child with a very grave illness or they are experiencing one themselves. Some have lost a child, a parent, or a spouse this year. Some are struggling with an addiction or watching a loved one struggle with addiction.
Some people are feeling the emotions of a first job this Christmas, or a lost job, or a stalled career, or a business failure, or a financial crisis. Some people are asking themselves, “How can I accept the grace and the love of Jesus with the way that I’ve failed morally this year? I can’t forgive myself; how can I expect God to forgive me?”
There are so many different situations that are swirling around us and within us this season. And Christmas is like an amplifier, through which we experience all the related emotions. It brings both happiness and pain into sharper focus. So how does the “Christmas story” in the Bible speak to this reality?
Let’s look at Luke 1:1-12:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
What circumstances surrounded this story? The people were living in desperate times; disease and poverty were rampant, and hope was often in short supply. Even today, we live in a world where hope can seem to be in short supply.
God is not, through Christmas, promising to remove all the pain of the human heart—all of these very real, emotional responses that we have.
What then is the problem that God is trying to solve with Christmas?
“I bring you good news…”
There was no crowd of reporters at the first Holiday Inn. There was no pushing and shoving from paparazzi with flashbulbs going off. In this small town—about 300 in population—it is the angel who becomes the reporter. And the headline is verse 11: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
This was how the world came to know that Jesus, the Christ, had been born. This is it. This is the only place in scripture where we actually hear the account of how this announcement was made.
Do you see what I’m saying? For them, this was a very obscure event that took place. There were many more seemingly important things taking place in the Roman Empire at this time, but God decided to create this publicity of the birth of His son. “I bring you good news.”
“… that will cause great joy…”
“I bring you good news the will cause great joy! A Savior has been born!” In other words, “We’re going to introduce this catalyst of eternal hope into the human condition. A Savior is born, and He will save the people from their sins.”
It was the love of God made flesh to dwell among us. It’s amazing! God decided after 400 years of silence to reduce Himself to human flesh so that you and I could comprehend Him better. To introduce His son, His very own son, to forgive us of our sins and to give us eternal life.
I think there is something in this text that is so profound, beautiful, and relevant to what you’re going through today and to what those around you are going through today that we can’t miss this. It’s the most obvious part of this text—the thing that could easily be overlooked—but it is the most important thing for us to not overlook. It’s the very next part.
“… for all the people.”
For all the people. All the Muslims, all the Buddhists, all the Confucians, all the atheists, all the Protestants, all the Catholics, all the men, all the women, all the Americans, all the Africans, all the Europeans—whether you’re feeling joyful, or heartbroken, or numb. “For all the people.”
It is the greatest news of all time and it makes Christmas the single most inclusive day of the year! This, this, is what makes it such good news of great joy. It’s for everybody—everybody—no matter what their emotional state is this season.
That is what I most what you to see: the gospel is for all the people.
Secondly, we now are the reporters. You are now the reporter. You are now standing in the place of the angel as the herald.
You are now the one who has the privilege and the opportunity to say, “I have good news for you of great joy—and guess what? It’s for you because it’s for all the people. Whether you’re in pain, whether you feel like a failure, whether you are alone, I have good news for you that will bring great joy into your life as you begin to understand it more and more.”
The Big Idea: Whether you feel joy or sadness or numbness this Christmas, the good news of great joy is for YOU.
Yes, Christmas can amplify pain, but the truth is that the greater the pain of the human heart, the greater the sense of joy when we truly understand the good news.
We have a message that we can bring to people—that Jesus Christ wants to heal their broken heart and forgive their sin. Jesus is for them and Jesus is for you; He’s for all the people.
This is the perspective of the disciple-making disciple. You’re the reporter now, and it’s the greatest privilege you can have.
Would you pray with me?
Our Father, the Father of Christmas, the Father of the mass of Christ, we celebrate the advent of the Savior. Lord, we pray that we would experience You in our emotions. That we would rest in the sadness and the joy of the season, or even the ambivalence where it exists, but that regardless, we would look for opportunities to be the reporters who share how this wonderful news can bring great joy to every single person. And that we would allow it to penetrate our own hearts in fresh ways as well. We ask this in your name, Jesus. Amen.
Adapted from the message given at the Man in the Mirror Bible Study in Dec. 2015.